A chronically-ill woman has conquered her social anxiety brought on by a debilitating condition all with the help of her pet raccoon and inseparable friend, Cody.
Kasey Valentine, 24, took the North American native in when he was just six weeks old in November last year and can now be spotted walking him around her home town.
She found him on Gumtree, a free classifieds ads website, a man was keeping him in a cat carrier and did not know how to care for him.
Since rearing him from a cub, the animal lover from Stevenage, Herts said they have developed a “strong bond” and he has changed her life.
Kasey who lives Cody, two German Shepherds, five ferrets and eight cats in her parent’s house, said: “I suffer really bad with social anxiety, it has been an issue since I was 12 or 13, my condition gives me mobility issues, he (Cody) really helps with that, he is really special.”
In her teenage years, Kasey had to deal with chronic fatigue and a slew of infections but it was not until 2014, when she was diagnosed with the underlying problem, a rare connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).
Her EDS means her joints can dislocate easily, complications from this meant she had to undergo a major shoulder surgery in 2012.
She said: “My health problems left me isolated and feeling very alone, I would not go outside, I would never talk to strangers but since I’ve had Cody he has made doing all that much easier.
“When we go out he clings to me, it gives me something to focus on and that helps me, he has become my best friend.”
Raccoons can live up to 20 years so seven-month old Cody could be keeping Kasey company for many years to come.
When he is not “hanging out” with Kasey he lives in a specially built enclosure in her garden which features ropes, tunnels, slides and climbing frames.
Kasey said: “Raccoons are very intelligent, they have a similar level of intelligence as a four-year-old child, they can undo door latches and open windows with ease so we have to keep an eye on him.”
One of Cody’s favourite was to play is to figure out puzzles which offer him a treat at the end.
According to Kasey while raccoons look cute and cuddly they do require a lot of time and effort to look after.
When it came to getting him neutered and vaccinated Kasey had to travel quite far to find a vet who could do the job.
She took Cody to Scott Veterinary Clinic in Beds where a resident vet had experience treating wild raccoons in America.
Cody shares his Hertfordshire home with a number of other species, including German Shepherds, Gino and Taya.
Kasey said: “He has got a really good relationship with them but the cats don’t like him, they make sure to avoid him but the dogs absolutely adore him.
“He is like a puppy, he think he is a dog.”
While Cody gets on with his housemates and has never bitten anyone he has cost Kasey’s family with his destructive tendencies.
She said: “When we first got him he did destroy a few things, he would go after wallpaper in my bedroom.
“I think they put things in the wallpaper paste which he can’t resist. He has also broken a few precious objects like figures, statues and collectible items when he climbs shelves.
“He has probably cost us thousands of pounds.”
Cody is not just known in Stevenage where he lives, thanks to growing popularity on social media he has garnered tens of thousands of fans online.
His antics, including munching on his favourite dog biscuits and jumping on footballs, have earned his Facebook page more than 10,000 likes, with interest surging in recent months.
Kasey said: “I started the page just before Christmas to have somewhere where I could put his pictures and videos because I was spamming my friends on Facebook and people really liked it and after a while it just took off.”
In May the page had 300 like but this rocketed to 8,000 by April and has kept on growing.
“I really did not expect that so many people would fall in love with him”, she added.
“I think it is good to get this exposure because a lot of people have a negative view of raccoons, they are seen as vermin, especially in America.”
Kasey said this has drawn some critics who have told her she should not keep Cody and that what she is doing is wrong.
In reply to these detractors Kasey said: “People think I have taken him from the wild, they think I am promoting ownership of raccoons and doing the wrong thing.
“I am quite clear online and in person that I don’t want people to see Cody and think ‘oh I would like a raccoon as a pet’.
“A lot of people think it would be cute to have one but once they realise the amount of attention it takes to properly care for them they would dump them, because people don’t do the right thing.”
Kasey is not required by law to hold a licence for Cody but has permission from Stevenage council and THE Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to keep him following a visit to her home.